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Latino Voices Project to Capture Youth Stories for its Collection

Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013

Maria Luisa Spicer Escalante, Eduardo Ortiz, Randy Williams, Latino Voices
Utah State University scholars Maria Luisa Spicer Escalante (left), Eduardo Ortiz (center), and Randy Williams (right) will discuss their involvement with the award-winning Latino Voices Project at Kiger Hour, Thursday, Feb. 21.

Utah State University’s acclaimed Latino Voices Project will start including stories from local youth. The project aims to capture what it means to be Hispanic in northern Utah through personal narratives housed in the Merrill-Cazier Library Special Collections and Archives. Three Utah State University scholars will discuss the collection at Kiger Hour Thursday, Feb. 21, at Café Sabor.


Hispanics are the largest minority group in the county. The Latino Voices Project was established in 2007 by folklore curator Randy Williams after she found they were underrepresented in the archives at USU. Williams felt they should be included in Northern Utah Speaks, a collection of oral histories designed to capture the stories of all the region’s citizens.


“We have a strong and growing Latino population in Cache Valley,” she said. “The holdings here didn’t reflect that.”


A community advisory board was created and native Spanish-speakers were hired to help co-direct the project. They held a workshop training bilingual community members to identify, collect and record the oral history of 45 Cache Valley’s Latinos with various professions and backgrounds. Interviews covered topics such as family traditions, cultural identity, religion and employment. In 2009, the Latino Voices Project won a Human Ties award from the Utah Humanities Council.


“One of the first ways into a community is an oral history project,” Williams said. “Communities are robust. They have all facets. You might think you know something about a community. [Latino Voices] could break down stereotypes. A lot of times you find out that people are pretty similar.”


Eduardo Ortiz, a researcher at the university’s Center for Persons with Disabilities, and Maria Luisa Spicer-Escalante, an associate professor of Spanish and linguistics, were among the first interviewed for the project. Five years later they remain involved. After researching themes that emerged from the collection, they are collaborating with Williams on a paper about the history of Latinos in Utah for the Utah Historical Quarterly. However, they recently realized Latino Voices lacked youth stories. In November 2012, the three researchers met with a handful of students at Mountain Crest High School, where there is an active Latino group, to recruit participants for the project.


“This is for posterity. What we’re asking you to do is bigger than this room,” Williams told the students. “It’s for your children. We started looking through [library] materials and the groups of people most underrepresented. Latinos are here in the landscape, but not in the collection.”


Ortiz made the case for their involvement. As a demographer, he studies patterns in populations. He laid out the facts: Latinos comprise 16 percent of the population in the United States. They are the fastest growing minority group. And the majority of the population is comprised of young people.


“It means you are the future of this country,” he said. “You are the ones who are going to support us. You are the ones who are going to make any changes here … The history of each generation is important. We need to know each other. We need to hear from you. We cannot assume things because we can be wrong.”


Afterward, seven students agreed to be interviewed for the Latino Voices Project. Their interviews will be transcribed and available in digital format online (digital.lib.usu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/Latino). Archivists are still collecting ephemera such as diaries, letters, and family photographs. The collection also includes copies of the Deseret News’ Spanish language publication OKEspañol for preservation.


Williams, Ortiz, and Spicer-Escalante will discuss the Latino Voices Project at Kiger Hour Thursday, Feb. 21, at Café Sabor, 600 W. Center Street, Logan.


Kiger Hour is an intellectual program presented by Utah State University and sponsored by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Caine College of the Arts. The event will be held from 5:15 to 7 p.m.


A buffet with appetizers, desserts and soft drinks, iced tea or coffee is available. Cost is $6.95 per person (plus tax and gratuity) and billed on an individual basis. Guests will also be able to order off the regular menu if desired.  A cash bar is available. For planning purposes, please RSVP to Natalie Archibald Smoot in the college office, 435-797-2796, or email, natalie.archibald@usu.edu.


The next timepiece will be March 21, 2013.


Related links:


Writer: Kristen Munson, (435) 797-0267, kristen.munson@usu.edu

Contact: Maria Luisa Spicer-Escalante, (435) 797-1209, maria.spicer@usu.edu

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